Then & Now is a new series for Precast Inc. magazine this year. Each issue, NPCA will catch up with companies previously featured in what was then called MC magazine.
For this issue’s Then & Now feature, NPCA caught up with Greg and Lisa Roache of Gainey’s Concrete Products in Holden, La. Gainey’s was founded in 1981 by Lisa’s father, Richard Gainey, who died in 1994 following an automobile accident. At the time of the story, Lisa was two years into her role of leading the company alongside her mother, Jeanie, and three siblings, Lynette, Richard and Christopher. Lisa now serves as CEO, and Greg is president.
By Joe Frollo
Q: Can you believe it’s been 25 years since that initial article in the Summer 1996 edition?
Lisa: It’s just amazing how much time flies when you are having a lot of fun. It does seem like sometimes it was a lifetime ago. That was pre-children, and my kids are such a large part of my life. It is hard to envision how we were then.
We are coming up on our 40th anniversary at the company, and so we are doing a lot of reminiscing lately. Seeing where we came from when my dad started the company to where we are now, it’s just really something.
Q: Lisa, you were 24 years old when you lost your father and were thrust into a leadership position at the company. You had three days to mourn before taking over day-to-day operations. How do you think about those first two years now that time has passed?
Lisa: Can you just imagine being 24 and inheriting a business? It absolutely changed everything, and I feel like (my father) would be so very proud from where we came. But sometimes, I’m not even sure if he envisioned it being what it is today.
One of my favorite things to do is walk around the plant when no one is here and just be in awe of how much we’ve accomplished through the years and the lives we’ve impacted and the lives that have impacted us.
Everything good and bad makes you who you are today, and so there were obviously lessons to learn. I needed to get a crash course in business, which is what I got. I’m very thankful for all the mentors I had through life and really, most of them have come through NPCA. People just absolutely embraced us. They helped us. They would send people to help us. Talk and encourage us. Still do to this day.
Q: How did you two meet?
Lisa: We were on the NPCA marketing committee together in 1998, and actually (Greg) really annoyed me to be quite honest. I run a fabulous meeting, and he would just be zoned out, not paying attention. That’s how we got to know each other.
After I went through my divorce, I had two little girls, and a mutual friend, Della McDonald, said we would be perfect together. My response: “Ah, I don’t think so.”
So Della sent a gift from Greg to me right after Valentine’s Day in 2002. I called to thank him, and it wasn’t a minute into the call that I knew he had no clue what I was talking about. I was so embarrassed. But he called back and said he was interested and said he’d send me a gift that’s appropriate for him. He sent me a box with his 10 all-time favorite books, a mug for coffee and warm socks. This is the romantic gift from Greg. I read all 10 books, and we talked and got to know each other and got to be really good friends. After a year of dating long distance, he came down. I tell him all the time he just married me so he could be the girls’ dad because he really fell in love with them. The rest is history.
Q: How has Greg’s involvement changed the course of the company?
Lisa: Greg and I dated long distance for a year before he came here and joined the company. During that time, he would consult for us, and he would give Lynette, my sister, and I assignments. On the weekends, we’d do them, and he’d analyze them. When he was looking at our business, he said with every residential system that goes out the gate, we were losing $100 because of the overhead involved. I’m like, “OK, we are out of that market. Let’s see what else we are going to do.”
Greg: That business, residential home sewage, was 51 percent of sales the year I got here. Without blinking an eye, she goes: “How are we going to get out?” I told her we are going to raise the price, and we are going to lose some business, but the business we keep will be profitable. But then we have to immediately replace what we lost.
That was a major switch from making all homeowner business products to business-to-business and using a traditional product line. Within six months of my getting here, we put together an operational strategy together. Last year, our home residential sewage treatment sales – which were 51 percent of sales originally – were less than a half of a percent.
Another change is that when I got here, they had a 100-foot-long building with no crane. They were pouring outside on the ground, in the rain with rubber tire forklifts. After a strategic assessment of the business in 2005, we hung our first crane and direct labor went down 43 percent. And then the series of expansions continued as we got out of the elements of Louisiana.
It came down to we needed to get out of a couple of things. Also, we needed to emphasize a couple of things. We were at a good point where we were moving from rural to residential to light commercial and industrial. Early on, there was a lot of growth here, but you are not going to make it without an efficient plant. In addition, we needed to learn to become really good contractors and become experts at wastewater. I would work here 12 hours a day and at night read textbooks on wastewater engineering.
The other thing I found was Lisa sat in her office and typically there would be 25 people lined up at her door to find out what to do for the day. We needed company structure, different divisions and people in charge. We wrestled over this for a while, but we eventually went from a flat organization to running a layered organization. We created job descriptions and salary bands. We went from being an autocratic organization to getting advice from a committee. We now have an executive committee with seven people, including Lisa. They discuss weekly everything that has to be done, then she decides. It was an amazing transformation. Lisa is one of the most natural born leaders I have ever met, but when you grow up in a little family company, you really don’t know anything other than what your instincts told you to do.
Q: Greg, how does Lisa remind you about what you’ve learned about her father?
Greg: When you think about what her father did for the sake of his family, it’s remarkable. He was working in a shipyard by night as a welder and felt like he was going to get laid off. So, by day he would work on the business. I’m sure he didn’t realize the risk he was taking on. He was just trying to find a way to feed his family. But that is a pioneer and an entrepreneur.
When I met Lisa, she was working seven days a week, and what they both had in common is they just had no quit. Her father refused to give up, and Lisa refused to give up through all the tough times.
Q: Lisa, you talked in the 1996 article about how NPCA’s resources were a major source of ideas and knowledge for how you ran the company. How do you continue to interact with NPCA and its membership?
Lisa: I remember my first Precast Show in 1996 in Indianapolis (then called the Manufactured Concrete Products Expo). I was so nervous, being a young female and thinking I had to know so many things. So I studied, and I prepared.
So many people were so warm and gracious and helpful. It’s been an incredible journey with the precasters and associate members along the way. The people who have become friends and have truly helped us.
I think we are at the point now where we really enjoy giving back. All of my business skills came from NPCA and the mentorships there prior to Greg joining the company. We really like helping other people. We enjoy making those connections.
Greg: Lisa was the poster child of, “If you want to get value out of NPCA, then put time into NPCA.” When I was on the board and on the marketing task force, I was actioned by both groups to call members and say, “Why aren’t you coming to the meetings?” And the answer was always consistent: “Well, I’m the only guy who can fix the mixer. I’ve got trucks down.” They felt they didn’t have time to invest into NPCA. It’s a circular problem. The more you don’t do, the more you dig yourself into the problems you have.
At the beginning, Lisa was desperate as anyone, but despite having no time and no extra money, she would travel to the meetings, sit in the classes and meet her fellow precasters. Now, either of us can pick up the phone and call 30 to 50 plants, and they will stop what they are doing and help us. And not a week goes by where two or three precasters ask if they can come tour, take a look at equipment we have, ask our opinions. It’s not just going to the meetings for us. It’s being connected with all the active member companies.
Q: What are your hopes for Gainey’s Concrete Products for the next 25 years?
Greg: Our dream is that this is sustainable. I’m 63. Lisa is 50. We want it to be a legacy business that will have a growth path way past our time. We built a team of executives here at Gainey’s that’s less me, less Lisa or other family members. This company is on a very aggressive growth path now.
We did three capital projects in the plant last year and now doing one twice the size this year. We are growing by leaps and bounds.
We have a daughter (Lainie) who is a junior studying civil engineering. She has said that she wants to enter the business, and that will be good if she does. Our other daughter, Shelby, is ready to graduate from Tulane and looking at graduate school for psychology. And Andrew, our youngest at 16, is a major figure in our lives. Whether they in the end seek a role in the company or pursue their own dreams, we want them to have options. I also have two married children who live out of state. Ashley is married to Will, and they are living in Kentucky. Michael is married to Kayla, and they recently relocated to Minnesota with their two children, Jett and Skylar.
I feel over the years that we’ve made an impact on our community and the employees who have come through the door. Even though the hours of a precaster are long and can be strenuous, it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted our children at all. When they recount the stories of their childhood, they recount the time lovingly of the company and the time they spent here. Those are the things I’m most proud of here.
Joe Frollo is acting director of communications at NPCA.